Mongolia’s most eligible eagle hunter

(CNN) – “Look there. Do you see this man coming like that?” asks Timor. “He is so beautiful.”

Galloping towards us with a sturdy Mongolian bamboo is Brad Pitt’s nomadic version returning home to “Legends of the Fall”. Grouped in a pinto gin over rich embroidered trousers, it definitely catches the eye. A fox fur hat warms his head and calmly perched on his right forearm is a golden eagle that is not just a prop for a cheese ad.

“Look at his eyebrows and cheekbones,” continues our Intrepid travel guide. “And look how big and strong he is. “The girls are going crazy over him.”

“It ‘s true,” says Timar’s wife, Bata, blushing slightly. “If I wanted to compare him to Timor just in appearance, of course I would choose him.”

After careful control, the outdated face of the intruder betrays a life he lived outdoors. But his jaw is definitely sculpted and his natural squint reminds me of a young Clint Eastwood as he looks away.

Jenisbek Tserik, whose name means “steel warrior”, is a semi-nomadic Kazakhstan.

Mark Daffey

Undoubtedly more impressive is his stature, which I only begin to appreciate when he stands next to four other berkutchi, or eagle hunters, gathered in front of us for a scheduled photo shoot and interview session. It is close to a higher head, with wide, square shoulders and muscular limbs that are further exaggerated by its voluminous clothing.

His name is Jenisbek Tserik, a name meaning “steel warrior” – an apt description of his achievements. A cavalry master is also a consecutive winner of the refining races with two fighters fighting a goat carcass.

Jenisbek is so experienced that he has traveled to Dubai to participate in exhibitions. For a semi-nomadic Kazakhstan living in Mongolia’s remote, westernmost province of Bayan-gilgii, any trip abroad would be like visiting another planet. Glitzy Dubai would be a completely different universe.

At the age of 26, Jenisbek tells us that he is not married and jokes that he has five girlfriends, one in Dubai and the other in Kazakhstan, where 90% of Bayan-gilgii residents come from. I’m not sure if he’s serious, but from what Timor and Bata told me about him, it’s not beyond the realm of chance.

Aside from the fight, Jenisbek is an archery champion and has won many awards for eagle hunting in Bayan-gilgii, where the eternal hobby is more prevalent than anywhere else on the planet.

A proud story

At 26, Jenisbek says he's not married - but has five girlfriends.

At 26, Jenisbek says he’s not married – but has five girlfriends.

Tuul & Bruno Morandi / The Image Bank RF / Getty Images

The eagle hunt can be traced to a forgotten kingdom in Central Asia, where Genghis Khan’s immediate descendants settled in the Aral Sea until they were trampled by Russian Empire forces that forced them to flee to the illegal Altai Mountains in the Altai Mountains.

Then, when the Soviet Union and China established borders on both sides in the early 20th century, Kazakhstan was cut off from their homeland and could not return.

They continued to live as semi-nomadic shepherds in Western Mongolia, where they continued traditional hobbies, such as golden eagle hunting, passing from one generation to the next. As such practices were abolished in Kazakhstan during Soviet rule, Bayan-gilgii became the core of the sport.

“For a Mongol, it is a pride to train horse racing. For Kazakhstan, their pride is to train eagles to hunt,” explains Bata.

You can see it by the way they walk and how they behave. The five berkutchi know they are being watched and played up to this, deflating their breasts and clenching their backs every time a camera lens shows their way. Browse the grooves and lips as if they have modeled their whole life.

It is far from what life should have been like in this part of the world before tourism was hampered after the first Golden Eagle Festival, which was held outside the provincial capital of Algiers in 1999. But even now, foreigners find it difficult to get here. When I ask our local ombudsman about numbers visiting the area this season, he says there are “many”.

“How many?” I ask.

“About 800.”

From October to March, eagle hunters head to the mountains in pairs - one to flush their prey, the other to release the eagle from above along a hike.

From October to March, eagle hunters head to the mountains in pairs – one to flush their prey, the other to release the eagle from above along a hike.

Mark Daffey

The numbers peak around festival time in early October and on the smaller scale Altai Kazakh Eagle Festival, held here in Sagsai two weeks earlier. In each, 100 berkutchi test their skills at events where eagles are expected to catch fox skins dragged behind horses or in races to win a coin from the ground on horseback.

An erotic contest involves a woman chasing bangs by chasing a man who does not always try too hard to escape. I could imagine Jenisbek receiving a disproportionate share of hits in recent years.

But only when the tourists leave does the eagle hunting season begin. From October to March, hunters head to the mountains in pairs – one to rinse its prey, the other to release the eagle from above along a hike.

The awards prizes include foxes and hares, whose rich coats make the warmest hats, such as those that crown Jenisbek and his companions.

Hunting can last for days at a time, and training requires patience as eagles become familiar with their handlers and develop the required skills.

Has it caused couples to divorce, I ask Timor, when husbands spend more time with their birds than they do with their wives? He shrugs.

When every single woman in the valley aligns for you, as for Jenisbek, who needs a wife?

Getting there: Although Mongolia is currently closed to tourism due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many tourism companies are now booking for the 2021 Golden Eagle Festival in Bayan-Ulgii, which takes place in early October.

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